We had the good fortune of connecting with Manoj Rao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Manoj, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
This question makes it sound like you have a choice. If you have any creativity in you, if you don’t use it, it will effect your emotional state. It’s a calling. The sooner you realize you’re like this, the better. How you choose to exercise or utilize that God-given creativity depends from person to person. Because of my upbringing, I went the safer route with degrees and steady day jobs that pay all my bills, while relentlessly pursuing creative endeavors in my free time. I love building something from nothing, whether it’s writing a script, performing a 7-minute standup comedy set, producing a web series, helping my daughters develop and produce original music, or developing their talent- it’s all creatively rewarding.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve always believed that both my business and creative life were equally important.
So by day, I work for Target- I recently became their Sr. Buyer of Music. I’ve always had a love of music, pop-culture and working with people, so this role is a dream for me.
It certainly wasn’t easy getting here. It’s been a slow climb, requiring long stints in areas like Marketing, Product Management, Finance, and working cross-functionally across multiple organizations with great people to launch amazing projects that drive the bottom line. Knowing the big picture and being able to get people to work towards it has always been something I’m proud of. If you work smart and look at a problem methodically and plan, there isn’t much out there you can’t do. I also work part time for the greatest beer company on earth- Einstok beer.
In terms of what sets me apart, I try to be a positive influencer and leader who can articulate a vision that inspires people. Inspiration in my experience is as important as elbow-grease. I also love being a connector. I love connecting people I know and trust to opportunities or other like minded people where I see a synergy. I also love connecting people to ideas and figuring out how to do something. I do it with no intention to make money, just to create value for people around me. Sometimes it succeeds spectacularly and sometimes it fails miserably. But the point is, people appreciate you trying. People remember. It builds your reputation. For me, it’s never been about money. It’s more about making meaningful connections and building a robust network.
By night, I’m a creative. I come from a family of creatives. Many of my cousins are massively talented, as were my grandparents. I think my own parents were creative, but were so focused on survival in the immigrant experience that they didn’t have time to tap into it. I’ve co-written and produced a web series on Funny Or Die. I’ve directed a global superstar. I’ve written a TV pilot that was a finalist in a prominent screenwriting competition here in LA, I took up stand up comedy during the pandemic and have killed once or twice. Heck, I’ve even starred in a few TV Commercials in the last year. But on the creative side, I am most proud helping my daughters unlock their own creative potential. Seeing your kid land a movie role or a scholarship for acting or watching them record original music in the studio, that is far more rewarding than anything that you do for yourself. I hope this continues.
I thoroughly believe life is too short to not love what you do. It’s important to do more than one thing, or all your happiness will hinge on your job. It’s’ good to have a side-hustle, but that’s not what I’m talking about. For me it’s more about balancing making a living, feeling like I’m a useful member of society AND having creative outlets. When I’m missing one of those things, I feel out of balance and need to fix it. Eventually if all goes well, hopefully my career and creative outlets merge.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In the day, I’d to the Santa Monica Pier. If they were down, I’d take them for rides along the beach or just go hang on the beach for the better part of a warm day. Another proven favorite is to drive down PCH, and go hang out in Malibu for a bit.
Depending on how much time we have, would probably visit a few comedy clubs and watch a few sets, or catch a few concerts around town because at any given time in LA, one of your favorite performers or bands is probably performing in some venue here. It’s actually crazy. Also, once in a while, we’d go catch a Kings game if it’s regular season or playoffs. There’s also staples like LACMA and Griffith Observatory. Tons to do here!
Dinner and drinks in Santa Monica on Montana street at Father’s Office or Rosti’s or on Main street is also always a proven winner.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My family, all of them but particularly my wife and girls. I’m grateful that they indulge me in my constant need to be creative. I also have some amazingly supportive and encouraging friends here in LA. You need a supportive tribe consisting of family, friends and kind strangers that serendipitously step into your life and open doors for you from time to time. I’ve had the good fortune of having all of those.
Mostly just us.